Will the Court uphold an arbitrator’s imposed fine for engaging in protected 1st Amendment free speech activity?

No. Richard Santer, a teacher employed by the East Meadow Union Free School District engaged, with other teachers, in a peaceful protest while negotiations for a new contract were underway. The protest involved picketing in front of a middle school which included parking their cars in front of the school and display their picket signs in their cars. This area was also used by the middle school’s students’ parents to drop off their children for school.

None of the teachers blocked either of two curb cuts in front of the school but according to the principal the protesting teachers’ parking caused traffic to become congested creating a safety concern for students being dropped off in the middle of the street.

No school official asked the teachers to move their cars during the protest, and no child was injured.

The school district brought disciplinary charges against several teachers under 3020-a and after an arbitration Santer was fined $500. His appeal was denied in Supreme Court.

On appeal to the Appellate Division Santer prevailed. The Appellate Division found that Santer’s free speech rights were violated and by bringing him up on disciplinary charges the school district, in effect, chilled free speech rights of all teachers concerning a matter of public concern.

N.B. In a case brought to the same Appellate Division, but a different panel, concerning the same incident but with a different teacher the Court held that the arbitrator was reasonable in upholding the discipline. In that case, Matter of Trupiano v Board of Educ. of E. Meadow Union Free School Dist., 89 AD3d 1030, 933 N.Y.S.2d 106) the teacher received a counseling memo. The Santer Court reasoned that Trupiano was not controlling since Trupiano did not raise a First Amendment claim in her petition.

Another teacher who was fined $1000 for the same incident was denied her appeal at the Supreme Court level. The Court there found that she engaged in an activity that endangered student safety. She did not appeal further. Barbara Lucia, Petitioner, against Board of Education of the East Meadow Union Free School District, Respondent. 32 Misc. 3d 1208A; 932 N.Y.S.2d 761; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3178; 2011 NY Slip Op 51210U (Nassau Sup.Ct., 2011)

In the Matter of Richard Santer, appellant, v Board of Education of East Meadow Union Free School District, respondent. (Index No. 1997/10), 2010-11006, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT, 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 8698; 2012 NY Slip Op 8750, December 19, 2012, Decided.

Will a one year suspension for verbal abuse to fellow staff members, parents and students be upheld?

Yes. Leslie Drucker is a tenured special education teacher at Unity High School with previous employment as an OSI investigator. She was served 3020-a charges for various verbal abuse allegation as well as “knowingly and inappropriately inject[ing] herself into a confidential investigation by the Commissioner of Special Investigations.

The arbitrator found against Drucker on 4 of the 5 charges and suspended her, without pay, for one year after taking into consideration her satisfactory employment history and evidence that she had voluntarily helped students.

Although Drucker raised issues concerning the failure of the DOE to vote for probable cause and the alleged bias of the arbitrator, Justice Barbara Jaffe found no due process violations and found her one year suspension did not shock the conscience of the Court. The petition was dismissed.

In the Matter of the Application of LESLIE DRUCKER, Petitioner, for a judgment pursuant to Article 75 of the C.P.L.R. -against- THE NEW YORK CITY BOARD/DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Respondent. 112638/10 SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 31313U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2366, May 13, 2011, Decided